Southern California is in lockdown and it feels a bit like a holiday film where Christmas is almost cancelled (and then rescued in the nick of time!). And yet, even in spite of Covid and an absence of parties and concerts, I can’t stop loving the season. Giant decorated trees, white sparkly lights, garlands decking the halls—I love it all, not to mention the cookies!
This afternoon I was planning out my seasonal bakes when I caught myself reminiscing about past Christmases. Because, although I’m crazy for the Claus, I spent most of my adult life inside an eating disorder, approaching December with excitement and glee intertwined with debilitating feelings of terror, guilt, and sugar cookie woes.
I want the sugar cookie.
I don’t want the sugar cookie.
I want the cookie.
I don’t deserve the cookie.
I want to be normal—I’ll eat the damn cookie!
I just ate the cookie.
I ate the cookie.
I ate the whole cookie.
Why did I eat the cookie?!
Sounds familiar? Managing food anxiety over the holidays can feel overwhelming, scary, and bloody exhausting. Our true selves want to embrace all the joys of the season, but bombarded by food choices and negative thoughts, peace can be hard to come by. If only our inner critics booked flights to Fiji over the holidays and came back to harass us after our trees were stripped of tinsel and out on our step. Just like many of us high achievers, however, our ED voices are unfailingly dedicated to dragging us down 365 years a year…
So, what can you do when it’s Christmas Eve and you want to enjoy your pie without a voice screaming toxic thoughts into your ear?
One thing you can do is take off the pressure. You do not have to eat pie. I repeat—YOU DO NOT HAVE TO EAT PIE. You don’t not have to eat the jalapeño poppers, chicken wings, or the stuffed brie either. Skip the rolls this year if a buttered roll on Christmas night is just too much to handle. Because here’s the thing—no one cares about your plate as much as you do. Sure, your family might notice you aren’t plowing through rolls, but trust me, most people are far more concerned with loading their plates than thinking about your next helping. You do not need to prove yourself on Christmas Eve or during the holidays in general. It is okay to go easy on yourself and focus on eating what you can—a normal dinner routine is absolutely perfect.
Secondly, stay present! As you pick up your festive pizza or stare at a table laden with food, absorb the reality that you do need to eat again right after this meal. I’m bringing this up because my ED voice is a worry-wart that thrives on future tripping.
You have to eat now; and then, then you’ll have to eat again! It’s too much food, it’s too much food!—my voice has howled over the years.
“Chill out!” is how I respond to this panic now, “All I need to think about is this meal; I will not be forced to eat when I am still full”.
Be mindful when you pick up your fork. Take each bite slowly, and take off the pressure that another meal is coming.
Thirdly, if your Covid bubble amigos are talking nonstop about food, know that it is okay to change the subject or to remove yourself from the conversation completely. Remember that there is more to the holidays than sweets and comfort foods! Winter walks and runs are my seasonal eating anxiety balm. When I’m out in a crisp wind, all bundled up and smelling the scent of wet trees or smoke rising out of chimneys, I feel a million miles away from the kitchen and the chatter of food, and more at peace with myself. Sometimes my winter outings are solo, but sometimes I bring a friend when I need a little extra support. Walking arm and arm with someone who loves me, my ED voice is overpowered by love and true connection.
Lastly (and most importantly!), keep a positive perspective! The holidays are a time to embrace what you love and to also show love to others. If your inner child craves a sugar cookie, remind yourself that you deserve a cookie… and eat a cookie! If you want to avoid sweets entirely, channel Ho Ho vibes by steaming Christmas flicks or visiting with family. And, if you feel it’s all gone wrong and your’e destroyed from a Christmas lunch, remember that your feelings will pass. You will be okay. You will get through this. You are enough 365 days of the year and deserve health, happiness, and peace in your heart.